Friday, December 31, 2010

Our German Christmas

Once Paris finally got ahold of some de-icer and decided to let us fly, we hopped town and flew to Germany on Christmas day. There, we hung out with some wonderful hosts and friends, drank lots of Dr Pepper and Mountain Dew, and took in the sights and sounds of Hamburg.

The metro/train system seemed extremely efficient. And on time. And clean. Weird.
The streets and sidewalks were wide open, made for walking, and warm and inviting. We loved that the architecture; though much of it new, it had what we'd imagine to be the 'old German' feel.
Christmas was festive. Lights all over the place; markets with fabulous sausages, hot drinks, and candies abounded. Snow fell. And fell.
Old town was cool.
The port was icy. And foggy. Felt like a whole different time period out there. Or maybe just a different world.
Listening to everyone talk definitely sounded like a constant flow of random combinations of consonants. If it weren't for the cold and the language, it would be a pretty cool place to live. A great place to visit though, and we're glad we went and will remember our German Christmas!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hamburgers and Hotdogs

You simply have not lived until you've eaten a bratwurst in Germany. In a blizzard. While unable to feel your fingers. And dancing to the sounds of jazzy Christmas music. Sooo good. It was heavenly.

We did make it to Germany on Christmas Day. We're hanging out with friends, keeping warm and watching the snow fall. Northern Germany is much different from France, and yet obviously European. We like it. A great place to visit. Too cold to live here though.

We're in Hamburg. Inhabitants of Hamburg are called Hamburgers. I told my wife that I wanted to take the camera out to snap a photo of a Hamburger eating a hamburger. I chuckled, she just shook her head. It's funny, really, it is.

Friday, December 24, 2010

De-icer? Seriously?

We seem to be stuck in limbo. Can't get out. And we have a de-icing liquid shortage to blame.

Last week we packed up all of our stuff. You see, we just signed a contract on a new apartment in Marseille two days ago. Yay! So excited! Our move-in date is set for the 31st. But between then, we had a plan. Notice 'had'. We're living in an apartment in a Paris suburb now, mostly on borrowed stuff. We're moving out and someone else is moving in, so last night I taped up the last box of dishes, all but two small luggage pieces of clothes are boxed away, and our pantry's cleaned out. This morning we awoke early to catch a plane to Germany, where we have Christmas with some friends scheduled. However, our flight was cancelled.

I'll spare you the details of getting the tickets changed (it was a mess), but we do have a hopeful flight scheduled for Christmas morning. We may get out of here yet. As I was riding the train through Paris today on my way to the airline's ticket office, I couldn't help but wonder, "why so many flight cancellations?" Tons of flights out of Paris CDG airport have been cancelled in the last few days. Tons. But what's weird is that there's not that much snow. Everyone here constantly tells us that it rarely snows in Paris, though my two winters prove otherwise, but right now there's barely a couple of inches on the ground and the roads are totally clear. It can't be harder to clear a runway than a bunch of city streets, so what's the problem?

It seems that our lovely main Paris airport, the second most travelled in Europe, has run out of de-icing fluid. Or close to it. Orly just across town still has some, so flights are going out of there fine.

I remember my student days at UK. In attendance at every basketball game we'd hear the announcement that if our team scored more than 70 points we could turn in our ticket stubs at one of the local auto part stores for a gallon of winter washer fluid. In Lexington, KY (hardly the frozen tundra of North America), they had so much of the stuff that they were willing to give away a gallon weekly to 25 thousand people. And yet in Paris, at one of the most travelled airports in the world, we don't have enough de-icer to get people to where they want to go for Christmas. Can't someone make a run to the local aturo parts store? And yet we sit and wait.

I found a supermarket tonight right before it closed for Christmas eve and picked up some cooked couscous and crab rolls for Christmas Eve dinner. We handwahsed our underwear for tomorrow. Here's hoping our flight is able to take off tomorrow, or we may be living a few days off of a bag of Reeses and a box of Sweetarts that arrived in the mail today [no, some wonderful friends in Paris have invited us over, we won't starve].

De-icer. Sheesh.

A messed-up no good day ended up being worth it though. Tonight before bed we talked through the Christmas story with Sawyer, and at the end of it he looked at me and smiled, then said for the first time: Jesus! We went to bed singing it over and over, "Jesus". That was a special Christmas Eve moment in our limbo apartment surrounded by taped up boxes. One worth remembering.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmasy Evening in Paris

After a full week of a sick little boy...
We decided that a trip to town for a Parisian Noël was in order. Some fresh air should do us all good, right? So we headed for the Galleries Lafayette, a fully French shopping mall extravaganza. As we stepped out of the metro, the first thing we noticed was lights lights lights!
Walking along the side of the mall, we saw for the first time a French Christmas tradition: window boxes. All of the window displays previously filled with mannequins and Europe's latest fashions were transformed to miniature winter-wonderlands. Penguins and elves and wooden children played and laughed and danced in their own cubed-meter case. We've since noticed versions of these window displays everywhere, from our apartment to otherwise empty-courtyards to pharmacy entrances.

Stepping inside the Galleries Lafayette, we stood face-to-face with an immense and beautiful Christmas tree. The galleries themselves are circular in shape, floors up and around the open center, filled up by the tree.
Up on one of the highest floors was one of the best toy stores we'd ever been to. Best as in great quality toys, beautiful displays, and a fun environment. Not so much in price. We happily watched as Sawyer ran the aisles, eyes wide, simply enjoying himself:

We were happy when Sawyer stumbled on each of the two things that we did get for him for Christmas and lit up with joy. Of course, we bought them elsewhere for half the price...

Back outside, we stepped across the street and took in the full view of Galleries Lafayette and Au Printemps.

Well done Paris. Well done.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Apartment Update

Sawyer’s apartment tout-seul...
Our less than 2-yr-old son continued his quest to convince us of his readiness to move out tonight. During dinner he hopped up and drug me to the bathroom. “Bath,” he said, and I started some water running. Content, he came back and ate. Then we returned to the bathroom for him to hop in the tub, where he splashed around for awhile. Later in the evening, dressed in pjs, he danced around the living room. We as parents both mentioned in passing that it was Sawyer’s bedtime, but exhausted from our days, neither of us moved. A few minutes later he grabbed his chair and walked off. We peeked around the corner to watch him place the chair by his crib and then crawl up and over the rail into bed. Who does that? When he saw us looking in, he stood up and simply grinned as us. “Think I’m ready now?”

Our new apartment in Marseille...
Don’t know if I’ve talked about it on here much, but we’ve been in the process of finding, applying for, and coordinating a new apartment in southern France. Now finished with language school (hooray!) in Paris, we’re moving to a more permanent place. It’s been a process to say the least. But the red tape has been cut, evaded, and passed through, and we’re ready! We need now to go down and sign the contract (probably in a couple days), and then we’ll load up our possessions and make the move shortly after Christmas. Hooray for a new home! Hooray for our home, with our stuff. Hooray settling!

Let’s get to work...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Too sick to dance?

Since the time of hearing his first bits of music, our little boy's been a dancer. Even when he could do little more then shake his arms and legs to the music while laying stationary on the ground, he did so and made his wishes of contant melodies known. His moves have been fairly consistent and simple: the bounce, the spin, the side-to-side sway, the running man, and more recently the jump.

Since the weekend though, he's been sick. Poor guy has been running a constant fever and coughing and just generally being pitiful since Friday night. He sits a lot (1st sign he was sick). He'll read with us or watch cartoons, but mostly just wants to sit in our laps or head to bed for a nap. Eating is mostly non-existent, and the smiles rare but cherished. This is sort of what it looks like right now: (you may notice that in his sick state he's taken a liking to mama's socks and daddy's hat)

However, Sawyer did escape the sickness for a few minutes last night by busting a groove to his favorite singing lion (thanks again Aunt Jenni...). Check out the moves:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lonliness in the cold

There’s a lot of words my wife, my family, and my friends might use to describe me, but emotional is not high on the list. They’re there, emotions. Somewhere inside of me. Every now and then a movie will pull the tears out (Glory, 7 Pounds, Patch Adams, ET). But in general I find emotional satisfaction by living vicariously through music and the psalms. Being that I have a special place in my heart for emotional rides in music, I hang onto albums from the turn-of-the-century whiney Emo run, as well as the emotional up-and-let-it-out songs like Radiohead’s Creep or DMB’s Bartender. But when I really want to experience emotion in its realist, rawest form, I go to the Psalms.

I love reading and experiencing David’s heart. He never hesitated to tell God how he really felt. And yet he seemed so balanced. “How long O Lord will you forget me?” is followed not too distantly by “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness” (Psalm 13). Something about it all feels right. Much more so than actual life. Much much more so than what I typically hear coming from the world of Christianity (question God? accuse God? nooo). When I feel a little twinge of emotion, I search for it in the Psalms to see what it really feels like. To discover passion and honesty and to try myself to communicate that to God.

Lately I’ve been thinking about loneliness. For a couple reasons. I started out musing not just on loneliness, but utter despair, pain, and losing the will to live. Walking to a movie in Paris late one night with my wife, snow blowing around overhead, I saw someone laying down on a concrete step in a doorway, a blanket of roughly stitched together bags doing little to deter the frigid cold. I was taken aback, finally hit with a deeper reality of homelessness, especially in a cold place. Survive a winter? In that place, I don’t think I’d have much interest in even trying. I suddenly felt overwhelmingly judgmental for ever turning away from a drunk street person. If I was bitterly cold and faced with the proposition of cuddling up to a brick wall while winds whipped by and snow and sleet fell for the night, would I be any different? If a drink made it go away, replacing the ice-cold pain and despair with warm delirium, would I find any point in sobriety?

Back to my life of comfort (doesn’t seem that my problems are so bad when put in that perspective)... loneliness. We’d heard before of Christians in Western Europe feeling estranged and alone. We get it. It’s weird: being in the most populated place I’ve ever lived, neighbors on top of and all around us, we feel more alone than ever before. We’ve found community here with some friends, and we know we’re only getting started, but in the midst of the masses, we feel alone. Turns out David experienced the same emotion, probably exponentially more.

In Psalm 142 he cries aloud, pours out complaints, and declares his troubles to the Lord. He says,
“Look to the right and see;
For there is no one who regards me;
There is no escape for me;
No one cares for my soul.”

Sounds pretty lonely, no? Now here’s the interesting part. This psalm was written by David, in a cave. So says the manuscript. There’s only 2 mentions in the Bible of David in a cave that I know of: 1 Samuel 22 and 24. 1 Samuel 22:2 says, “ there were about 400 men with him.” Two chapters later it appears to be a similar situation. Surrounded by 400 others, in a cave, and David felt so totally alone that he wrote this? Pretty amazing concept. And yet I get it. Unlike David, I don’t have anyone chasing after and trying to kill me, but I am surrounded and yet alone.

And it’s Christmastime. Time to be with family and celebrate the Birth of Christ. Sadly we don’t have family here, so we’re trying to figure out a way to make the holiday we always associate with family special. We know God will provide.

A simple suggestion, especially to our friends in the States... could there be some people around you in your everyday life that are in the midst of a crowd and yet totally alone? Is there someone you could invite over for a gathering, a meal, a party, a week away from school? Make the day of your single friend, an international student far from home, or some empty-nesters who’s kids are half a world away. Invite them in for even the simplest of festivities. Loneliness is no fun, and yet it’s a plight with a simple remedy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ready already?

It has been an absolute joy for us as parents to watch our little boy grow in his desire to help. No longer is he an eating, pooping, and sleeping machine. He’s growing out of the run in circles and scream, throwing objects and giggling phase. Wait no, he’s firmly in that one... but that’s no longer ALL he does. Instead, he loooooves to help. His first actual chore was unloading the dishwasher. One at a time he’d pull utensils out and hand them to me to depose in the correct place in the drawer. Now he feels it necessary to get everything, and thus I must keep up on the receiving end, or the glass/plate/bowl in his hand will inevitably crash to the ground. No breaks yet, but I know the day is coming.

Later he learned to put toys away, which is fantastic. Mommy says this is because Daddy’s obsessed and puts them away moments after Sawyer moves onto the next thing. He watched, he imitated, he now (sometimes) puts his own toys away. I say it worked.

One of our favorite things to do together is make pizza. Sawyer likes to spread the toppings. Of course always one at a time and it would take him about 2 hours to dress one pizza, but it’s fun to do together. Now anytime we cook he feels he must pull his stool up and do something at counter height with spoons and ingredients.

Just like God doesn’t need us to do His work in the world, to carry His gospel around, to love and protect and help when He could easily do it himself, He sure loves to see us trying with an honest and earnest heart. We too love Sawyer’s heart and interest in helping.

Lately Sawyer’s helping has become more independent. We often find him in the bathroom brushing his teeth (err, getting the brush wet and putting it in his mouth). We’ve walked in the kitchen to see him standing over a sink full of dishes, dousing them in dish soap and trying to reach the faucet. He refuses our help with his socks, insisting he can dress himself (he can’t). When we leave or arrive, he runs to the light switches to illuminate or darken the room. If he spills anything - baby powder, rice, couscous - a pan and brush or mop is never far behind.

Yesterday when he walked into the kitchen at lunchtime, casually opened the fridge and grabbed a bowl of applesauce, then walked to the table, sat it down, climbed into his high chair and began eating, realization struck. He must be trying to prove to us that he’s ready for his own apartment. I know they say that kids grow up fast, but even in the modern day, an apartment at 2 seems a bit premature.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ready to be a Big Brother?

Lately we've had the enormous blessing of having other babies in our home. Between a visit from friends and a babysitting job, Sawyer's had the chance to interact with some younger ones in the comfort of our own home. And he has absolutely loved it!! As have we. He becomes a whole different person when babies are around. No, that's not true... He just shows that much more his gentle, caring, teaching, and protecting traits. He loves to baby the babies. To sit by them and hold hands, pat heads, or help pick up dropped toys. We still have to teach him that he's a little too big to plop down and lay on top of the babies, but the desire in his eyes to impart what he's learned to the younger being is amazing to watch. Of course as pregnant parents, we couldn't be happier and can't wait for his own baby brother/sister to arrive!
Here's a shot from our french Thanksgiving: Sawyer pigging out on bread.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

January through November

There’s a song I remember from my childhood called Sunday Best, or something like that. It was sung by one of those cutesy Christian couples that toured churches singing to tracks and selling CDs. It was a song with a good heart, an annoyingly catching tune, and a message that I’ve always thought a bit off base. The crux of the song is in the chorus: “Monday through Saturday I can’t take a rest from putting on my Sunday best.” The idea that everyday of the week we (meaning American Christians) should be just as nice, smiley, clean, etc as on Churched Sunday. Yeah, I don’t want to get into that... but this song popped into my head today as a petite metaphor of something bigger, and I believe legitimate.

It’s Christmastime! Noël! The season of... what? Giving? Yes, giving! Have you ever had that strange Christmas sensation come over you where sometime in December you just want to do a little something out of the ordinary and give a little extra? In a sudden moment of Christmas warmth you’re inspired to dig deep in your pockets or go out in the cold to give a helping hand. Maybe to the Salvation Army Santa Clause ringing the bell, maybe to the orphanage you know of in town, perhaps to your church, or to a friend that you want to really surprise this year. Have you experienced this? This desire to give, not out of guilt, and not to get anything back? Have you then done it? How does it make you feel? Good? Good. Good!

We have Pizza Hut here in Paris, which I’m pretty fond of. So we ordered some pizza. But when I went to pick it up, a mistake had been made and the wrong pizza prepared. The manager righted it for us and cooked up our usual pan supreme, and then sent me home with a free extra. Our little family of 3 clearly didn’t need the additional pizza, so I hopped in my car with it and went in search of a beggar, a person or family in need. I found a Roma mother and her small daughter, freezing and sitting outside by a wall. I offered them the pizza, and in that moment I felt wonderful, seeing their eyes light up and the joy at opening the box and finding a whole fresh pizza. They ate a piece each and then stored away the rest, perhaps for later, perhaps for other family members. But when I got back in my car, I felt horrible. I hadn’t given anything of myself. Not a bit. That was an extra pizza that I didn’t even pay for and truth be told didn’t like (had bacon and sour cream on it). So what had I given? My scraps. That’s it. Kind of pathetic really.

Living in France has helped us to become much less wasteful. It’s natural, and sort of expected in society. I can no longer take a plastic grocery bag away from a store without feeling a little grossed out by it (in part because it costs a nickel, in part because it’s killing the environment, mostly because it’s just wasteful). Much less is consumed and wasted here than my former life in the States. I actually look back on our burning trash in Africa and think we wasted a lot there too. I’m really glad that our lifestyles have changed to the point that it’s natural to reuse, recycle, and give away what’s excess.

Think about how much good we could do the world if we were intentional about putting our excess to good use. You know that silly phrase moms use to get their kids to eat vegetables by saying that there’s starving children in Africa? Well I’ve lived there, and it’s true. But you can’t box up your green beans and ship them to “starving kid in Africa.” You know what you can do? Pull together all the leftovers, mix them into a casserole with some cheese or something (not the cook in the family...), put it in a box and go find a family in need. I’m willing to bet there’s more than one within a couple miles of your house. But don’t confuse it: that’s not giving. That should simply be normal. Everyday. Expected.

I want to get to the point that giving, actually giving of myself is easy, natural, and a lifestyle. Giving of my excess is a nice step. One that will help the world, but maybe not change it. Instead of (or rather in addition to) passing on my scraps of pizza, how about finding that same family and asking what they’d like on their pizza? Then order it, pay for it, and hand-deliver it. That’s a bit more like giving. And I don’t want it to be seasonal. I want it to be January through December. Every month, every year.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Start of the Season

Call me a legalist if you like, but I am strict about no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. To me, it adds to the excitement and keeps the music from driving me crazy. I mean, how many times can we listen to O Holy Night and how many versions of What Child is This? can we take? So yeah, I refuse it until after Thanksgiving, which is today.

Yesterday we had a great big Thanksgiving meal with about 50 of our closest local friends from around the world. Today, instead of Black Friday shopping (soooo glad that is now a world away), we spent our day after thanksgiving at language school, as everyday. And then took some dear friends to the airport to send them back home to southern France. Back home a package arrived! Hooray... until we got to the lion that sings The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
Turns out Sawyer likes it, thus we've heard it on a non-stop loop for the next hour. Christmas decorating has begun with music playing, and over the past hour the sun has gone down and the ground has been blanketed in snow out of nowhere. All a wonderfully appropriate start to the Christmas Season. And what a great transition to go from giving thanks to anticipating the coming of a child savior into the world!!

And now my son's walking around with a shopping bag on his head...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ode to Socks

Why socks are one of my son’s favorite things I don’t know. They are perhaps second only to his shoes. If it weren’t for socks though, I don’t think we could get him dressed in the morning. He despises getting dressed. Who can blame him really? Pajamas are soft, and warm, and comfy. But they have feet on them. To put socks on, pajamas must come off. So every morning we say, “Sawyer let’s go get socks!” He then goes and picks out a pair, the start of his day’s outfit.

I’m not sure how it’s happened, but I’ve become a sock snob of sorts. I don’t really like the implications: that I prefer, want, buy, or have something that’s expensive - a luxury item. That’s not how I intended to live, and I hesitate to even write about this because I want to be a good steward of my neighbor’s checkbook (as in, even if I can afford something fancy I should think twice because my friend maybe can’t or shouldn’t afford the same but will be interested because I have it). But here’s how it happened: As with most of my clothes and stuff, I always bought and wore whatever was cheapest. Then one day out with my good friend Paul we stumbled on some Patagonia Ultra-Lightweight socks for 70% off (at the same store where I later bought some Chacos for $15). We bought about 4-5 pairs each. That was almost 4 years ago. I’m wearing one of those pairs right now, and they are still my favorite socks! I’ve played basketball and golf in them, they’ve been on African safaris with me, hiked through gorges, mountains, beaches, and yet still here they are. I’ve worn and washed them at least 100 times each. I’ve since added to my collection Smartwool and Teko socks as well. Love them all. Worth it? Well, yeah.

When we were dating, I once asked JJ what she wanted for Christmas, and she said “socks.” I laughed. Thought it absurd. This was before my sock snobbery when I only bought packs of the cheapest, simplest ones out there. But I obliged and found some fun socks for her. Now it’s an annual event. And always a winning gift!

So as you can see, our family loves socks. Thus I present to you this Thanksgiving my Ode to Socks

Oh how I love socks,
Whether they’ve been around awhile
Or just out of the box,
Great socks always make me smile!

If I had to choose
Between red, orange, or gray,
I’d probably take the duller.
But my son who loves shoes,
When given his say,
Would always wear multicolor!

Friday, November 19, 2010

How to Plant a Church (funny)

Now that we're beginning to think about the next step, we need some good advice for what God has given us a passion to do. How about this?

Btw, I like sarcasm.

Monday, November 15, 2010

We’ve arrived... it’s time to go!

Have you ever had a time in your life where right when you started to feel comfortable and at home in a new place, you moved? Maybe you were a military kid, or maybe an MK, or maybe you just moved a lot. Or maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. In recent years for us, this has been a recurring theme.

Yesterday, I had that moment of “I’m at home here.” We were eating lunch at a very French cafeteria-style restaurant in the mall. We were laughing at Sawyer as he spit out a green bean, dipped a chicken nugget in yogurt, threw a mini-fit, and tried to fall asleep in his high chair. JJ and I were eating the same foods as the French people around us and truly enjoying them. Those chicken nuggets Sawyer was eating? Free, because I had struck up a conversation with a lunch lady and made friends, Sawyer smiled at the right time :).

Right before lunch, we’d been shopping in the mall. We understand now the process of buying things here. France (and Paris) is by far the most expensive place we’ve ever lived, but we’ve figured out how to shop and not dip into emergency life-savings with every purchase. JJ had picked up some maternity clothes, I had tried on a pair of skinny-ish pants and actually thought “I like these” (didn’t buy them though, way too small to work with my big American shoes, will have to work out the shoe problem first).

After lunch, we got in our car to make the 30-minute drive home. I didn’t pull out our GPS, I didn’t look at a map... for about a 20-mile radius around our home, we know our way around! And I finally understand how to read street signs. As I was driving I began to think about the train ride into Paris and recited the names of nearly every stop along the way. I thought about the big city and the monuments, the squares, the fountains, the fact that we finally know our way around.

Friday night I had dinner with some French people. I was able to talk with one man about the Bible... what it says, how to read it, what it all means. We talked about many more things as well. Saturday I sat down behind a drumset to play music with some friends. Saturday night I rode a couple hours in a car with some other friends to and from a basketball match. We talked and laughed and got to know each other far better than we ever had on the court.

We finally feel at home here. And so we are going to move. Sometime around Christmas, we’ll be moving south to a whole new city with a whole new way of life and dialect of French. We’ll re-learn our way around, start new relationships, and completely replant ourselves. We’ll hope and pray that maybe next time we’ll get to know a place and actually stay there awhile.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Remember Reebok Pumps? I would argue one of the most important shoes of my generation's childhood. Those things raised the bar on sport shoe fashion and function. Who doesn't remember Dee Brown's dunk contest double-pump prep? I wonder how much he was paid for doing that. Maybe nothing. But that moment those things became over-the-top popular. I even got myself a pair of knock-offs from LA Gear. They were pretty sweet too.

Today marked the second time in the last month I've seen someone wearing Reebok Pumps. 1st was a black and green pair in Versailles. Today was a purple and orange pair walking through the supermarket. Both were in pristine condition. Does anyone else find this odd? Are they still being made? Or did these two people somehow find great condition vintage pairs that they just wear around?

With John Wall at the helm, Reebok's about to make a big-time basketball comeback, so maybe they're pulling their old sure-thing out for the opening act? Or is this just a Europe thing? Has anyone else seen Reebok Pumps out and about?

While I'm on the topic of hip consumerism, have you seen the new Windows Phone commercials? If you live in the States, I would guess so. I stumbled across one today, and I think it's marketing genius.

The whole idea of "get your head out of the phone and realize there's a life to be lived" seems like a slam dunk. And that's from someone that's not too big on most windows products. But then again, I don't own a smartphone and don't really want one, so maybe my opinion's a bit nul. I do steal my wife's pretty often though and peruse through her electronic life-connection to the world, so I can't exclude myself from those who need saving (not that I actually think another product will make us less stuck in our own little electronic world... I just think that with this marketing the phone might out-kick its coverage).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Acid-Washed Jeans & A Tissue

Sometimes I'm a little slow to catch on.

My almost 2-year-old son loves to help out. He also really prefers for things to be clean. It's not unusual to see him walking through the apartment with a brush and dust pan sweeping crumbs, real or imaginary. We almost never make it through a meal without him demanding a napkin so that he can wipe his hands or tray or both.

Still, I should have noticed when he bee-lined from his room to the kitchen, grabbed the pan and brush, and then intently ran back to said room. I thought nothing of it.

I probably also should have noticed when he jogged into the living room, climbed onto the sofa, and reached immediately for a tissue (the intensity and focus was astounding). I didn't.

Instead, I thought as he stretched for the tissue and then turned and ran off, "those are some fun retro acid-washed jeans." Remember those circa 80s/90s? Blue in their jeandom but splotched with white up and down. We were so cool.

But wait, I've never seen acid-washed jeans for sale in France. And Sawyer doesn't own any. Nor does he dress himself. Curiosity peaked, I walked back to his bedroom. There sat my little boy, pushing and scattering little piles of baby powder with the tissue. He had knocked a bottle of baby powder off the shelf and the lid had come off, spilling the white fluffy powder all over the floor. Sawyer was trying to wipe it up, but his tissue was a little overmatched. I smiled.

I wonder how often God looks down at us sitting in the middle of a mess we've made, totally outmatched and hopeless to clean it up. Is he happy to see us trying as I was with my son? Will he come down and clean up our messes with as little as a pleading look? I think so. I hope so. I think he already has.

Thankfully the baby powder spill was harmless, and actually made his room smell pretty nice.

But what if it had been something else? What if I found my son sitting in the middle of an incredibly abrasive cleaning fluid? What if his hands and legs were scarred? I would pick him up, quickly. Hold him. Take care of him. Cry with him.
Why would we think God's reaction any different?

He loves us. Oh how he loves us.
Whether messes that simply interrupt our day or messes that hurt us and leave scars, God is there. He sees it. He is more than able to take care of it. He knows we'll learn from it. But mostly, he cares about our well-being.

And I like to think he chuckles sometimes when he sees us pushing around a mountain of powder with a tissue.

I started this post thinking about a metaphor to bridge the gap between the cleansing blood of Christ and acid-washed jeans, but I'll leave that one to your imagination.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Night Arc

A nasty rainy day on Sunday left us two boys inside and restless, Mama gone for the week. We put our heads together and came up with the idea to go into Paris and climb to the top of the Arc de Triumph. And so after and afternoon nap, off we went. We arrived a little sunset, and so we were blessed with a beautiful night view of the city of lights. I was blessed with a massive calf workout. Once we made it to te top, we watched cars circling below, we saw the Eiffel Tower lit up and sparkling on the hour, and we gathered our bearings on yet another birdseye view of the city (have also seen Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, top of Morntparnasse, and the steps of Sacre Coeur; Montparnasse is the best, but the Arc de Triumph is right there with it). A beautiful view of a beautiful city.
Sawyer was really great on our way up the tower, riding in my arms and laughing as we passed a group of girls in heels trying to climb it. On the way back down, he got a little restless and wanted to walk it (he's recently learned to jump off of things and thus looooves going down steps). I fought with him most of the way, but once I could see the end of the stairs I let him down and assumed (correctly) that he couldn't walk any slower than the British couple in front of us. As we rounded the corner and finished the final steps, the exit door worker's eyes widened with a look of "did that two-year old really just walk down the 481 steps from the top?" Sawyer held his head high and grinned.

Knowing a 40-minute train ride awaited myself and a restless boy, I came up with a great idea to get a McFlurry from the nearby McDonald's. He and I could share it and thus occupy our time on the ride. My plan backfired. It turned out that Sawyer had no interest in eating the McFlurry. Not even a bit. He did, however, take great delight in attempting to feed me spoonfulls of the M&M laced ice-cream. Uh-huh-huh Daddyo, the tables are turned! And so he proceeded to dip the little plastic spoon into the cup and barely coat it in ice-cream, then hold it up to my mouth and giggle with delight. Even the sourest faces on the train around us couldn't help but laugh at our scene.

So the Champs-Élysées is the major road in front of the Arc de Triumph. It's kind of a big deal. Among other things, it's littered with a bunch of crazy high-priced fancy jewelry stores. Brands like Cartier, Swarovski, and Swatch hawk their wares on the Champs, but seeing a billboard in the metro, I have a new favorite brand:
That's right... Free Willy artistic jewelry and decorative items. Who wouldn't want a house full of Free Willy?
Free Willy!

Loire - Villandry

On our way home from the Loire Valley, we stopped at one last Château: Villandry. Villandry is most well-known for its gardens, and thus we never made it inside the dwelling, but rather spent our morning roaming the pathways and trails of the gardens outside.

The gardens were quite impressive. And we came in the middle of autumn. Imagine them splashed with color and flowers as they would be in spring and summer!

Beautiful and useful, these gardens were filled with vegetables like cabbage, peppers, celery, artichokes, and pumpkins. Mmm, tasty garden!

Hey, grapes! Perhaps intended for wine, but pretty tasty themselves.

One of our favorite parts was the labyrinth, a maze of pathways between hedges ending in the middle with a wooden tower and a view as the reward! We picked our paths and raced to the middle. Mama won, with Sawyer a close 2nd.

Au revoir jardins de Villandry!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Where is your church?

When someone asks, "Where is your church?" we point them to a building or give them an address, and everything centers around what happens at that location.

When we gather at the building, we learn to be good. Being good is defined by what we avoid in the world. We are holy because of what we don't participate in (and at this point we may be the only organization in the world defining success by what we don't do). We live decent lives in decent homes with decent jobs and decent families as decent citizens. We are decent church members with little more impact on the world that we had before we were saved.

-David Platt, Radical

Sound familiar?

What if when we listened to a sermon, instead of wondering what we can get out of it, we listened to it so that we could go and teach it to someone(s) else? Someone who is waiting, hungry, expecting. What would that kind of a church look like?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Loire - Ussé and Chinon

After leaving caveman land, we made a childhood dream of JJ's come true and drove to Sleeping Beauty's Castle. The real one. More or less. Château d'Ussé is the real building on which the castle in the story of Sleeping Beauty was based (as written by Charles Perrault). Seeing it from the road was indeed impressive and stunning. Because of both vocal and written reports that the interior was in bad shape and not very accommodating to guests, we didn't go in. Sawyer did find a fun tree to play under by the road though.

Next we continued on to Chinon. Chinon is a fun little town in the Loire which is overlooked by an old castle. We arrived during market day and had a good (though cold) taste of French open-air markets outside the city. Here JJ and my mom are shopping for scarves.
After our shopping ended and we rested a bit, we went for a visit of the Château de Chinon, an old castle with a rich history. It was a lot of fun to walk through, with towers, dungeons, and state rooms abounding. But this château/castle had some added fun in that it was recently renovated and reopened. Instead of simple plaques detailing history or funny-looking scaled models of people, battles, pieces of equipment... throughout the chateau were videos transmitted onto walls, fireplaces, and ceilings which showed some of the history. Things like visits of kings, requests for aide from Joan of Arc, and midnight battles came to life inside. For a slightly less-than-overly-interested history buff (read: don't care much about history) like myself, this was a fantastic idea! I recommend it, if you're ever in Chinon.